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Mike Potemra

One thing I wish to do on here over the next little bit is to dedicate some entries to people whom I've thought highly of, personally, and whom I've known in various ways that may no be typical, but ways which nonetheless have touched my life with the friendship of these individuals, as I hope I have touched theirs.

I think it's a good idea to stay away from social media. My personal Facebook page is still active, though I'm not posting on it, and soon it will be deactivated, with this journal--and, of course, the various components of this website--being the modes through which people might see what I am up to. I am always up to things hard, you might say--I go for everything I do, hard, or I don't bother. It's my nature. I can be Kierkegaardian that way. I used Facebook as a way to show what I was about, up to, the kind of art I was making, the life I was living as an artist who intends to alter society and culture. Too, it became a way to stick things up the asses of my enemies, the people who hate me because of what I do and the level I do it at. You should hate me, if you hate me, because of something I did to you or yours; but, of course, I don't do anything like that. Chances are nil that any of these people know me personally, beyond email, beyond my body of work. Sometimes, over the years, I met people on Facebook who became actual real friends, like my friend Lisa Jayne Gordon, who lives in Cambridge, which I decided not to hold against her, though I think very little good comes from Cambridge. Well, there's the Brattle. And the Harvard Art Museums. And Mt. Auburn Cemetery. And Lisa. And her son Julien, whom I respect because he is smart and he grows and he has a questing spirit.

But, I would go on NPR and ten people would defriend me. Hell, last year I got a clean bill of heart health from the cardiologist--I'm a stroke survivor, you know--and half a dozen people defriended me. Publishing people, of course. It's always publishing people. You'd rather I die? Well, I really hate to disappoint those people, but in the grand scheme of things, I will always be around, because of my work. And I'm more alive in that work than I am as I go about my days, so dying, after a fashion, doesn't seem possible. In other ways, I have to try and fight against it every day, given where things stand right now, and what I am fighting against, the system that wants me buried in the ground where the rest of the world cannot know what my work is about and what it can do for that world.

On Facebook, I unfollowed most people. Few people ever gave me anything to think about, or made me laugh, or even had a good film recommendation. I saw a lot of broken, lonely people pretending their friends on there were real life friends, and I saw endless genital-lapping. I belonged to some groups, which ranged from film noir to Beatles books to the history of Rockport to people who like Christmas year 'round to Charlie Parker to antiques. I saw a lot of hate, a lot of insincerity, tons of obeisance, tons of ass kissing, lots of cronyism, and so many attempts by unfunny people to be funny in an endless chain of comments. These people either never know how unfunny they are, or don't care. You see how rare humor is, as if you didn't already know; not things, maybe, to laugh over themselves--for life, if you know how to see it, is quite the jokester itself--but people who can aim to be funny and then actually be so. Memes, misspellings, the same kind of people watching the same shows, pretending to like, if they're in publishing, the same en vogue books that nobody actually likes, parroting the same phrases, white knighting, trading portions of their souls in desperate attempts to get likes.

And I realized, the more real something you say is, the better you say it, the more that people who read it will think about it, be influenced by it, hell, even steal it to impress their friends, the less people will hit that like button or comment. They want boots fit for licking; and yours, if you're that kind of person, are boots fit for walking. They don't interact with you, even when they like you. Even when they love you. Friend and foe alike will be intimidated. What changes the lack of interaction, in this case, is fame and money. I don't have them yet. I will. But I'll be long gone from that citadel by then. I always have been long gone from it, in a way.

But I'm here to tell you about Mike Potemra. For a long time, he was one of my favorite posters. I used to pitch him at National Review, where he was the literary editor. Now, if I pitch you for a while, and you don't assign something, given my range of subjects on which I am a stone cold expert, given that I can change my writing style to suit any venue or need, and that I do, it's almost always because you despite me personally. You don't have someone who knows that subject better, you don't have someone who writes on it better, you don't have someone who writes better, period. Sure, I'm on the outside at the moment, and staff can take precedent, but if you never use me, and you're using other outsiders, it's not because of the job I do, or don't do. You can despise me for all kinds of reasons. Often I'll be despised because that person who didn't assign any of the six pitches, over three months, will have seen the pitches having been turned into pieces at other, and often better, venues. I pay the price for that. Mike wouldn't assign anything, and eventually I stopped pitching him. National Review didn't really matter to me, in a way; I mean, it wasn't going to change anything for me after a certain point, and whether I had been in 307 venues or 306 wasn't particularly germane, and we're not talking much money. I stopped pitching.

But Mike and I started interacting on Facebook. I had invented this character named Phil from Scituate, who was supposed to be a kind of typical Boston-area lunkhead, the sort of person who thinks that Rob Gronkowski, because he's big and athletic, could play power forward for the Celtics if he wanted to be a two-sport star. A man who likes his Dunkin' Donuts. Has the accent. Calls sports radio. Sometimes I'd work him into a post of mine. And Mike was that rare person who threw himself into so much. He had moved from the East to LA, and I'd read his accounts about the various churches he went to, trying to find the answers to the mysteries of our life. He'd be at some show where it was an all trans Led Zeppelin cover band headlining. He went to see artists he sometimes didn't normally care for, just to try and wrap his head around what they were doing, what others saw. He was so open about the women he dated, his exes. He might be at the super market, and he'd see one from his past, who was now a bodybuilder, and he'd say that she was very beautiful, more so than when she was this model-like blonde back in the day. He was candid, he searched, he'd go somewhere in the middle of the night to try the Danishes a diner put out then because he had heard that's when they served the really tasty treats.

And he'd write about it. On Facebook. He'd write about it well. He'd write about it with Socratic wisdom. Humor, humility. He was also one of those people that has two favorite teams in a sport. Admittedly, this bothered me. For instance, I'm a Red Sox fan. I don't get to be a Red Sox fan and a Cubs fan. You get one team! They're your team! Mike would say stuff about sports, even just the rules, and the history, and it could be wrong, but I noticed that over the weeks, the months, things would get less wrong, because he was learning some new subject, which is what he was really good at. You have to have a large brain for that, but you need an even bigger heart.

Earlier in the year, there was a flood in Scituate, and Mike sent me a note saying, "We need to rescue Phil!" For the people on Facebook whom I actually cared about, and cared about what they had to say, I'd go directly to their page. I wouldn't really look at my feed after a certain point, because it was the same endless effluvia. "Likemelikemelikemelikemelikeme. Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease." A few nights ago, I went to Mike's page. It had been a while--a bunch of months. I believe it was last year he had made some remark about how he was old, and I said, no, sir, you're not old, stop that. I'm guessing he was probably around sixty? Not old, right? Certainly not now, not these days.

Right away, I saw, of course, no posts from Mike, but from people paying tribute to Mike. I don't know how he died, but he did die, back in May. It was unexpected. I read elsewhere that there had been a wake not far from me. I wish I had known, because I would have gone, even though I never met this man in "real" life, never spoke to him aloud, but I did view him as a friend, and, more than that, someone who gave both my head and my heart hope, that someone like that was out there, questing, questing quiet hard. I thought he was a good man, and someone who could give those who might be lacking the courage to throw themselves into things, to venture into the unknown, to find that there's a lot to know there, both the energy, the example, the principled model, to hit up that diner on the other side of town at 2 in the AM, or the Zeppelin cover band (I think it was called Hammer of the Broads). Not the actual diner, not the actual band. Whatever your version of the diner and the band are. The life that is out there. Not just the parts of it--like the residue--that just happens to land in your lap.

Normally this is when someone would say, "Rest in Peace." I don't believe in Rest in Peace, and I bet Mike did not either, does not. That would seem to preclude blazing hard into something new, something unknown, and learning what one could about it, so as one might hit up the thing after it better informed.

On behalf of Phil from Scituate and myself, I say that we very much appreciate you, brother man.

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